In these stress-filled times, looking up at the stars can be a relaxing escape for busy executives. Dean Regas, outreach astronomer of the Cincinnati Observatory, points out that the hobby can be enjoyed alone or with family, and can last a lifetime. “There is always something new to see in our ever-changing sky,” he says.

The Cincinnati Observatory, the first professional observatory in the United States and home to the world’s oldest professional telescope still in public use, offers plenty of resources for aspiring astronomers. The National Historic Landmark in Mount Lookout served more than 20,000 visitors of all ages last year.

Now is a particularly meaningful time to pick up the hobby, as 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo and has been proclaimed the International Year of Astronomy.

Here are Regas’ suggestions to get started:

1.Don’t run out and buy a telescope in the heat of the moment. Learn the night sky first. Visit the library and check out some basic astronomy books.

2. Get a pair of binoculars to start. They can help you to see quite a bit.

3. Do your homework. Join a club for people who share your enthusiasm for astronomy and ask for their recommendations. Astronomers are notoriously friendly and love to share their expertise. The Cincinnati Observatory also has a program by which FOTO (Friends of the Observatory) members may borrow telescopes.

4. When you are ready to purchase a telescope, invest in quality. Be prepared to spend more than $200, and consider a well-known brand such as Orion or Meade.

5. Telescopes can be purchased at retail stores or on the internet, but you may also want to consider attending “Scope Out,” the Cincinnati Observatory’s annual telescope festival — scheduled for Sept. 12 this year — that features vendors of quality telescopes.

6. Once you have your telescope, remember that the Cincinnati Observatory offers classes for new telescope owners.